June 15, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
All eyes continue to be on Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer for his stance on the city’s controversial proposal to add protected bicycle lanes and remove 120 parking spaces as part of its redesign of Skillman and 43rd Avenues.
Van Bramer, who said he would take a position on the plan after Community Board 2 took its vote, has yet to announce his thoughts. The community board voted against the plan on June 7 by a vote of 27 to 8.
The Council Member said this afternoon, however, that he expects to state his position next week. He said this week has been “incredibly busy,” as he’s been working on passing the city’s budget.
“I anticipate releasing a statement next week about the traffic safety and bike lane proposal,” the Councilmember told the Sunnyside Post.
He added that he continues to talk to residents and business owners daily about the project, and is meeting with the Skillman Project and local business owners who are opposed to the project later today.
Van Bramer’s statement today comes after Rep. Joe Crowley spoke out against the DOT’s proposal, referencing the concerns he’s heard from constituents about the issue. The day after the board vote, Assemblywoman Nolan also came out against the plan due to the number of parking spaces needed to be eliminated for it. Neither Crowley nor Nolan, however, have the power to stop a city-run plan.
The issue has been on the table for seven months, and the public has weighed in on it several times, including at community board meetings, a town hall, and a CB2-led workshop.
The Department of Transportation, which expressed disappointment after the full board vote, did not respond to questions on where the agency is with the project.
The agency, however, said last Friday that it was reviewing its options for moving forward, and would continue talks with the board and local stakeholders. The DOT added that it considers the community board vote “advisory on substantial safety projects.”
While Mayor Bill de Blasio holds the ultimate say in whether the project will go forth, many turn to the Councilmember within a given project area to gauge where the proposal could be headed.
In 2016, for example, Community Board 4 voted for the DOT’s proposed changes for Queens Boulevard, so long as the changes didn’t include protected bike lanes. After the vote, however, Council Member Daniel Dromm voiced his support for a plan that includes protected lanes. The next day, de Blasio released a statement saying the DOT would move forward with the plan.
Juan Restrepo, Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said it’s not surprising that Van Bramer hasn’t taken a stance yet.
“This has been such a long and drawn out process,” he said. “Van Bramer and Denise Keehan Smith began this conversation, and it’s been such a windy road to get to where we are.”
He added that it’s up to the Councilmember to commit to the safety improvements, including protected bike lanes, that he called for last year after Gelacio Reyes was struck and killed at 39th Street and 43rd Avenue.
“I hope the Councilmember understands that it’s a very bad precedent to stand next to widows and claim you’ll do x, y, and z and not go through with that,” Reyes said.
Pat Dorfman, the former executive director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and outspoken critic of the DOT’s plan, is also waiting on Van Bramer to respond.
She and her group, Queens Streets, will be meeting with Van Bramer later today to “learn more about his decision.”
“We fervently hope that he will support the passionate concerns of 100% of businesses, churches, schools in and near the corridor, fire officials’ concerns, the majority of residents, and some of us cyclists,” Dorfman said. “[We hope he will] work with us on how to make the streets safer for all, and defend us from city actions which would be detrimental to so many. “
Community Board 2’s vote also comes as DOT officials recently told Community Board 6 that a vote will not be sought on the Queens Boulevard redesign from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike, citing mayoral priority. The board, however, still voted no to the plan by a vote of 23 to 11.
While de Blasio has not spoken to whether he will go forth with the plan, he did respond to a caller’s question on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning about the two avenues as a “missing link” between Queens Boulevard and Manhattan.
“We’re going to make a judgement in the name of protecting lives,” de Blasio said. “But I do like to hear from communities. I do like to see if we can balance concerns and get people to hear that we are trying to actually adjust where we can for real and honest needs.”
He added: “We’re not going to–and I’ve shown this many a time on Vision Zero–we’re not going to give in to some loud voices who want to keep a status quo in place that actually endangers peoples lives.”